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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thousands pack Allen Fieldhouse as basketball season starts

Fans get first peek at new players

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he thought of adding another national championship banner to the Allen Fieldhouse rafters is not often far from the minds of Kansas University basketball fans.

At the season-opening Late Night in the Phog on Friday, fans - who had nearly packed the Fieldhouse - were reminded again of the program's tradition as they watched a video montage that included Danny Manning celebrating with teammates after their 1988 miracle run through the NCAA Tournament.

"Everybody's hopeful, and this year has a lot of potential," said Baldwin resident Greg Freix, a lecturer in KU's School of Business.

With all due respect to the many activities, dance numbers and skits meant to rile up the fans, Freix and thousands of others were ready to see action on the court.

Last season, fans watched the young Jayhawk squad improve at the end of the season and capture a Big 12 Tournament championship. Many key players return this season, including sophomores Brandon Rush and Julian Wright, who are sharing honors as preseason conference players of the year.

"I think the first practice of the year is very exciting, especially when you are ranked so high in the nation," said Sam Reichert, a Manhattan High School senior.

"Kansas Late Night is the standard every year, and you are the reason why," men's basketball coach Bill Self said to fans during a brief address from James Naismith Court.

But before the fans were able to glimpse the men's and women's teams in action, they were treated to dancing performances and skits.

Members of the Harlem Wizards showed off their dribbling and ball-handling skills and involved children from the crowd in a game.

Fans also witnessed Squatch, the hairy mascot of the NBA's Seattle Supersonics, jump over four people and dunk a basketball and give a high-five to Big Jay. The Seattle mascot is in Lawrence for Sunday's exhibition game between the Supersonics and the Chicago Bulls at Allen Fieldhouse.

"It's lots of fun. My son loves KU basketball. The Late Night atmosphere is very family-friendly," said Kelly Greene, of Topeka, who was with her 9-year-old son, Joel.

Some fans were curious to see the returning and new players in action. Instead of watching them dribble or shoot, a Fieldhouse crowd first witnessed freshmen Brady Morningstar, Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur on the court showing off their dance moves as part of a "Dancing with the Stars" skit.

"I think it's just the first time everyone gets to see the new team and the new players that come in. People get excited in the offseason," said Steve Byington, a 2004 KU graduate from Lawrence.

Others were not so quick to heighten their expectations.

"I'm not sure yet. I'm going to have to see a couple of games first," said Nikki Potter, a KU sophomore.

But KU's tradition pulled thousands together again and rekindled a passion that was on hold for months.

"It's just the beginning of what we wait for every year," said Barb Freix, of Baldwin, as she waited in the chilly air outside the Fieldhouse just as the doors opened for Late Night.

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